Dr Clare Barker
I have been working at Leeds since 2012, having previously held a lectureship at the University of Birmingham. I first developed my interest in postcolonial literatures and cultures when studying as a postgraduate here in the School of English at Leeds; I took our MA in Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literatures (now Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures) in 2003 and obtained my PhD from the School in 2008. My postcolonial research intersects with the fields of literary and cultural disability studies and medical humanities, and I am closely involved in the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities.
My research focuses on postcolonial literatures and cultures, and it engages centrally with disability studies and medical humanities. I’m interested in the ways in which disability, health, and illness are constructed and imagined in different cultural contexts, and in how fiction can shape and transform our understandings of embodiment, medicine, and health.
My first book, Postcolonial Fiction and Disability: Exceptional Children, Metaphor and Materiality (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), analyses the representation of disabled children in postcolonial writing from South Asia, Africa, and New Zealand. It examines the metaphorical functions of disability within postcolonial writing, where disabled children are often understood to symbolise postcolonial nation-states – ‘damaged’ and fragile, yet embodying the potential for radical difference. Its central focus, though, is on the representation of disabled children as agents and citizens, exploring fictional engagements with the politics of healthcare, citizenship, normalcy, and discrimination in postcolonial societies.
With my colleague in the School, Professor Stuart Murray, I recently edited The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Disability (Cambridge University Press, 2017), which brings together experts in literary disability studies to explore the literary representation of disability across historical periods from medieval to contemporary literature, across cultural locations, across all major genres, and using a range of critical approaches. Click here to read our article on literature and disability in The Guardian.
I have also co-edited two special issues of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies that focus on the connections between disability studies and (post)colonial texts and contexts: ‘Disabling Postcolonialism’ (2010, co-edited with Stuart Murray) and ‘Disability and Indigeneity’ (2013, co-edited with Siobhan Senier). I will edit a 2019 special issue of Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings on 'Literature, Medicine, Health'.
I currently hold a Wellcome Trust Seed Award to fund my next book project, on 'Genetics and Biocolonialism in Contemporary Literature and Film'. This explores the differential ways in which genetic research (and biomedical research more widely) impacts upon ‘postcolonial’ communities. Indigenous communities in particular are often targeted for genetic research (for instance, in the Human Genome Diversity Project), and activists have framed medical science and the pharmaceutical industry as agents of ‘biocolonialism’, a term highlighting the power dynamics involved when minority groups are 'mined' for their genetic riches. I am interested in how genes, the human genome, and heredity are conceptualised across different cultural frameworks; in how cultural texts may contribute to popular understandings of genetic science and shape the interpretation of scientific research; and in how bioethical and legal concepts such as ‘informed consent’ and ‘intellectual property’ translate (or not) across different cultural frameworks. Indigenous literature and film – one of my enduring interests within postcolonial studies – is at the centre of this project.
I also have an ongoing interest in representations of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, which killed many thousands of people and, due to a groundwater supply which remains toxic, continues to cause congenital disabilities, reproductive disorders, and to affect the physical and mental health of local residents to the present day. I am interested in the ways that fictional writing intersects with other forms of disaster representation such as journalism, charity and aid campaigns, particularly with regard to the representation of sick and disabled people. Click here to read about activist and artistic responses to the disaster. I have worked in partnership with the Bhopal Medical Appeal to hold public engagement events, and continue to support their work raising funds for the healthcare of survivors and raising awareness about the disaster.
From 2012-2016 I was a Co-Investigator on an AHRC-ESRC Large Grant Project under the Connected Communities scheme, entitled ‘Representing Communities: Developing the Creative Power of People to Improve Health and Wellbeing’. I worked in collaboration with Qulsom Fazil from the University of Birmingham Medical School, and my strand of this project involved research on the representation of health and wellbeing in British Pakistani literature.<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>
- Postgraduate Certificate Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (University of Birmingham)
- PhD Postcolonial Literary Studies (University of Leeds)
- MA Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literatures (University of Leeds)
- BA English Literature (Durham University)
- Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
I greatly enjoy teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I have a special interest in disability issues in higher education and I am committed to improving accessibility for students with physical and cognitive differences in whatever ways I can.
Research groups and institutes
- Medical Humanities Research Group